This post should perhaps come with a warning. What is described herein is not especially good gardening practice. I have been planting things in places where I shouldnt, crossing my fingers a lot and trying not to think about consequences too much. As you may or may not know, I am planting my garden with perennial fruit and veg, and then planting pretty stuff among to make a kind of a small, colourful, urban version of a forest garden, edible and beautiful and not hard to maintain. This, particularly the perennial veg part, is not an especially well-trodden path, as it turns out. The annoying thing about this is that it is quite hard to track down many of the plants I want. Air potato source, anyone? Tree collards? On the plus side, this means there is a fair bit of experimentation and improvisation involved, which makes the whole enterprise feel rather more edgy and exciting than I had anticipated.
The improvisational fun began with the arrival of the asparagus. I have shamelessly chosen ‘Pacific Purple’ for its colour. I am imagining purple, ferny foliage dotted through with the purple pinpricks of Verbena bonariensis (a long-standing stalwart of this garden) and the blood-red thistle flowers of Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’ (a brand spanking new acquisition, see pic, above). I made the mistake of getting out my RHS encyclopedia to tell me how the planting ought to be done, then stood looking from page to garden and back again with comedy frown and sinking heart. The RHS version is all deeply dug, arrow straight and hummus-rich trenches. The trench where I was to put my asparagus wiggled between a paulownia and a small box hedge, and then kind of around a corner just to make the point. And the soil was recently under lawn, so is a bit rubbish too. It is not ideal asparagus country, shall we say, but I girded my loins, manfully pushed the book away from me and pressed on. They’re in the ground at just about the right depth. They are covered with some soil. They probably wont produce RHS standard spears, but they’ll be fine.
In my failure to track down the weird stuff, I am turning to the ‘normal stuff we don’t treat as perennial’ and first among these to go in is shallots. The ‘Perennial Vegetables’ book on which I am most relying has four and a half pages on all sorts of weird and wonderful perennial onions that I could spend ages tracking down, grow and not like, but mentions that shallots (which I know I love) are perennial, but are usually dug up, divided and replanted elsewhere to avoid a build up of onion diseases. Egging me on mercilessly it then says this: ‘On a small scale, it would be very interesting to experiment with growing these plants as perennials by leaving them in the ground for several years.’ So this is what I will do. I reckon if any onion, anywhere, is going to succumb to an onion disease, it will be on my damp, clay soil, but hey! we’re experimenting, right? Not everything is going to be perfect. I went for ‘Golden Gourmet’ purely because it said it was resistant to bolting, which I imagined in my information vacuum might be quite a handy trait in the perennialising stakes. Dont you think? Maybe?
Next in line is a runner bean. I know…me neither, but here it reads: ‘Plants in Britain have been known to live for 20 years or more’. Who knew? They are perennial and hardy, so it says, to -5C. This would have been no good in my garden this past winter, but with a thick mulch and a prayer to the global warming gods I might just be able to get them through. Being able to find absolutely no information on which runner beans perennialised best, or which are hardiest, I plumped for ‘Celebration’ because it has pretty pink flowers, and will go with my cirsium and verbena much better than your garish old red types. As I said, I am completely making this stuff up as I go along, based on a vague idea of a colour scheme and ideas that have flitted briefly through a confused mind and could easily be wrong. Dont take any of this as in any way informed, and whatever you do don’t even imagine just how smug I’m going to be if it all comes off.